Not music to their ears

The unfortunates

There was a time, not too long ago, when it was impossible to start the pre-production of a film without a few heavy-duty meetings with the music director. Traditionally, the business of Bollywood films have depended a lot on its music. Superhit songs have always been the best promotional tool for any film.

That hasn’t changed. But in the last decade a lot has.

With the marketing of Bollywood music changing rapidly, the role and importance of music directors, singers have diminished considerably.

Right now, it has hit rock bottom.

What has gone wrong?

item number 3

Things started going downhill when Bollywood started over-depending on item songs.

Though item songs have been a selling point of a film since the days of Helen, these days they have become extremely important. Filmmakers are inventing new ways to minimise costs and ensure that they get a rocking item song for their film since one good item song and the right promotional strategy are enough to guarantee success.

Producers have now started roping in guest composers to compose item songs without the consent of the original music directors. There are numerous examples where at least eight different composers were roped in to create music for one film – a deeply flawed strategy where you aim to get the best composition from each music director.

Today, music directors don’t hold any position of power in the filmmaking process – a far cry from what they used to be even in the nineties. Most music directors have been reduced to, what they themselves admit off-the-record, to ‘tune composers’.

How music is scored now?

Even 15 years ago, composing a film’s music meant at least 25 sittings with the producer, actors, singers and the director. This was followed by intense recording sessions. The music director dominated the proceedings and was aware how the songs were being shot.

Today, music directors compose a tune, which is recorded and played back to the producers. If the producers don’t like, it is immediately rejected.

So how long does this process go on? “I remember a producer rejecting 22 tunes before finally selecting three. It was a painful experience. I would play a tune to him and he would say, ‘Kya bhai yeh copy-copy lag raha hai’. Or he would say, ‘Kya bakwaas tune banaya. Isko kisiko mat sunana bhai’.  He would keep ridiculing me and my music and reject the tunes. Finally, when he selected a few, he made me sign a contract and took away the rights of those tunes. I never heard from him again. I have only got a small part of the payment as per the contract. I don’t know what is happening with my songs,” admits a reputed music director-singer on strict conditions of anonymity.

This, he says, is happening with a lot of music directors in Bollywood. The producers behave like bosses when a song is being composed, they even lord it over as the lyrics are “fitted” to a tune. The names of the playback singers are finalised after an approval from the producer.

“There are times when an antara of a song has to be changed at the last-minute or the producer insists that I put a rap number inside a song even if I don’t wish to. The producer’s wish is my command now, you don’t have an option but to do whatever he tells you.

You have sold your song, now f*** oUnhappy music smileyff

Ask any music director and he will tell you that they don’t have the faintest idea about how a song will be picturised or promoted for a particular movie. Quite often, somebody else is roped in at a high price towards the end of the shooting to compose the item number.

In most cases, the one composing the item number is paid more money for one song than the original music directors who have composed the other songs.

When the promotions of the film start, the item numbers are promoted with gusto while the other songs are used as back-up.

Many-a-time the original music directors have to plead with the producers to promote their songs.

In Bollywood, there is a new genre of music directors coming up who are known to compose only item numbers and they are the ones who are earning the highest, not to mention the huge publicity that automatically comes with it. Most of these musicians, who are composing only item numbers, are singers themselves and have a popular band on the side.

What about Bollywood playback singers?

singers again

There are a still a few stars singers left who are getting good assignments. Typical examples would be Mohit Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan and Sonu Nigam.

But barring these, singers have lost their rightful place in Bollywood. With singing reality shows throwing up at least 15 singers every six months, Bollywood is flushed with talents.

There is a large supply of Bollywood singers compared to the demand. Singers get a chance to sing only a few songs in a year and if they are unlucky, the songs won’t get any publicity as well.

Singers are keeping themselves busy with reality shows and concerts in the hope that they will get to sing that one hit number of a blockbuster film.

It seems their prayers are going unanswered.

You see, item numbers aren’t only ruining a film’s quality, it’s driving a lot of people out of business too.

First picture taken from this magnificent blog 
The second picture is an illustration by Avinash Patil
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Fourth picture taken from here
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4 replies »

  1. Not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand I’m a huge, almost blind, follower of the “musicians, who are composing only item numbers, are singers themselves and have a popular band on the side.”
    On the other hand, I recognize the lack of effort and the resulting lack of quality of Bollywood OST’s. This had to happen, with the Internet age, but I still mourn the loss of innocence that came with Bollywood soundtracks in the past. Maybe that’s why we still have 90s hangover and listen to entire songs whenever they come on the radio.


  2. Man, this is totally true, I mean just take a look at the modern songs, (pointing towards Boss songs) aren’t they vulgar? Our lyricists are these days out of good words and are using mainstream abusive lyrics to make a song “very” popular? Disgusting! I don’t want any of 8-12 year old kid to sing a song with words like “Gaa** mein dum hai toh band karwaalo…”


  3. Great article!
    I still remember those days of early 90s when music rights used to recover 35% – 40% budget of a movie. Would love to see a post from you about Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, Nadeem Shravan and Anand Milind era.


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